Research

What is a late imperial Chinese person in relation to his/her body, the material world, and different conflicts in society? As a scholar, I address this central question through studying Chinese literature and culture, especially literary representations of personhood, prints and performances of drama, the gender dimension of writing, and writing as social and political practices. My research projects involve various types of materials––dramas, novels, poetry, historical documents, and visual representations. Throughout my research, I maintain a threefold approach to literature: identifying meaningful textual details, examining the material and social production of literary works, and interpreting literature through critical questions informed by both Chinese and Western traditions.

Book Projects

  • Exile to the Stage: Costuming and Personhood in Early Qing Drama (under contract)

The book studies the political and cultural significance of clothing and costuming in early Qing drama (texts, performances, and visual representations) against the Ming-Qing transition and Manchu government’s hair and dress regulations. The book argues that the Ming-Qing transition turned theatrical costuming into a unique way to reassemble the disrupted body, clothes, and individual identities during the dynastic transition. This book introduces an interdisciplinary method to integrate texts, performances, history, and critical questions in the study of Chinese drama.

  • Bodies That Still Matter: Forensics and Literature in Late Imperial China (in progress)

Dead bodies always reveal significant aspects of a society and its culture. In addition to formulating a systemic way of understanding the living body, traditional China developed comprehensive forensic practices to examine dead bodies. Those practices together with their literary representations reflect the understanding of individuals as biological, social, and legal subjects in late imperial China. The project analyzes court-case literature and related historical documents in 17th–19th-century China. Through an examination of court-case novels and dramas, forensic and legal documents, and visual records, the project delineates the modes of interaction between literary writing and forensic practices in late imperial China.

Articles

  • “The Inconvenient Imperial Visit: Writing Clothing and Ethnicity in 1684 Qufu”, Late Imperial China, Dec. 2016. (PDF)

The Manchu-style costumes employed at Confucius ritual performances in early Qing China signified an inherent paradox: whereas Confucian rituals sinicized the Manchus, Manchu costumes colonized Confucian rituals. This paper examines the Kong family’s writings about clothing and body on display during the Kangxi emperor’s visit to Qufu in 1684. It shows that literati scholars of the Kong family integrated Manchu clothing into Confucian ritual through their strategic writing and interpretation. On a larger scale, the paper suggests that the sartorial transition embodies the hybrid process of sinicization and Manchuization which characterizes early Qing history.

  • “Absent Presence: Costuming and Identity in Qing Drama A Ten-thousand Li Reunion,Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, forthcoming.

The paper explores the relation between costuming and identity in Qing drama through the case of Wanli yuan 萬里圓 (A Ten-thousand Li Reunion), a play about a Chinese family separated and then reunited through the dynastic transition. The paper examines textual fragments, visual representations, and performance records to demonstrate how the drama dresses its characters as members of a Chinese family and subjects of changing states. The study shows that theatrical costuming in Qing drama provided a productive way of reshaping body, clothing, and individual identities that were constantly in tension with historical changes.

  • “Modern Accidents: Representing the Railway in Late Qing News Media” (under review).

Technological accidents significantly influenced people’s everyday life in modern societies. The introduction of train and railways to China and the ensuing railway accidents in the latter half of the nineteenth century challenged the traditional understanding of unity between man and the natural world. The paper studies the reports and representations of railway and railway accidents in late Qing news media Shenbao and its graphical supplementary Dianshizhai Pictorial (1870s to 1890s) in comparison with related reportage in two English newspapers. The paper demonstrates that alongside the depiction of a harmonious co-existence between humans and the railway, late Qing news media subjugate the human body and mind to the modern machine through representing railway accidents, epitomizing a power relation inherent of modernity that reverberated throughout modern Chinese history.

  • “Suicidal/suicided Women in Late Imperial Chinese Literature” (in progress).

Late imperial Chinese literature is rich with stories about female suicide, many of which unwitnessed. The paper asks one question: can a silent woman obtain agency through suicide? The paper examines cases across genres to demonstrate the multiple interpretations of agency in literary representations of female suicide.

  • “Dressing the Poetic World of Kong Shangren (1648-1718)” (in progress).